Iván Duque has tried to send a message of strength this Monday. The president of Colombia, in an address to the nation, announced that the police and the Army will try to unblock the roads that for twenty days have been obstructed by protests against the Government. “There is a clear criminal interest in affecting and sabotaging the economy and the development of many populations,” said Duque.
“The operation will start immediately. The country cannot be blocked, ”adds a government source. The president assured that he has coordinated the entire operation with mayors and governors of the regions and has asked that the use of force be proportional. His Government has received much criticism for the police repression during the demonstrations, where 42 people have died. Three officers have been arrested for homicide and another 10 are being investigated for similar cases.
This decision represents a new knot in President Duque’s strategy to regain control of the country. On the one hand, after 15 days of the blockade, they opened to negotiate with the leaders of the strike – the workers ‘and students’ centrals -, nothing less than a gesture. Until that moment, he spoke of talking to them, but he did not give them the possibility of it being a one-to-one conversation. However, he accepted and started negotiations two days ago with the UN and the Church as mediators. The first two days of talks were one of rapprochement between the parties. At that rate it seems that the matter is going for a long time.
While with one hand he negotiates, with the other he tries to recover those routes by force. “We have seen roadblocks that have affected millions of citizens, millions of peasants who have not been able to get their products. We have seen the impact on millions of Colombians in their mobility. We have seen the impact on the circulation of food, shortages in entire cities, “he explained. He then repeated that the obstruction of 36 roads is illegal and that they cannot last another minute.
The protest that began on April 28 for a tax reform that involved a tax increase has lasted beyond belief. Not in his worst nightmares did Duque contemplate a scenario in which he would have to withdraw the reform, drop the minister who had enacted it and has the country semi-blocked three weeks later. This has happened. Along the way, its international credibility has been undermined by images of police officers firing at protesters. Cities like Bogotá are full of graffiti against the uninformed: “Tombos assassins.” The agents have also suffered the wrath of attackers who have burned buses, banks and police stations. According to official data, there is a dead police officer and more than 800 injured.
The region of Cauca, difficult to access, marked by violence, drug trafficking and the guerrillas, is the one most affected by roadblocks. There have been the most intense clashes between protesters and police. In Cali, a city where there has been looting and riots due to the absence of authority in the streets, scenes of urban warfare were experienced when the authorities entered neighborhoods surrounded by checkpoints. At least four young people were killed in those clashes. Days later, the suicide of a protester who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by riot police degenerated into a violent night in Popayán. A student was hit by a police defense weapon, according to human rights organizations. Now those clashes have moved to Yumbo, in the Valley, where at least one death is counted. “There are 14 wounded by firearms and five by stab weapons. Also six policemen injured ”, says a police source.
Duque can negotiate with the unions and set up checkpoints, that is within his possibilities. However, extinguishing the flame of discontent is not going to be easy. On Saturday hundreds of thousands of people marched across the country peacefully. There are those who see in this social outbreak a democratic spring that has been underway since the peace accords with the FARC, which demobilized 30,000 guerrillas. Young people have developed an allergy to the status quo, to authority, present and past. In Bogotá some boys tried to demolish an equestrian statue of Simón Bolívar, hero of the country. They did not succeed, but the gesture is loaded with enormous symbolic power.